As a student, I earned spending money by tutoring rather than babysitting. As a teacher, I ventured into high school rather than elementary classrooms. After church on Sundays, I join lively conversations with my congregation’s teenagers, but end tongue-tied after a few minutes’ talk with the toddlers. Though I’ve certainly never sought to avoid the company of young children, circumstance and inclination have generally put me in that of older ones instead.
In George MacDonald’s fairytale-fable The Wise Woman, a little girl is put to a test in which she must complete a list of chores in the magical cottage of the Wise Woman. This little girl never stoops to do chores in her own home, but at the Wise Woman’s, she condescends to spend a day sweeping and tidying and tending the fire. Yet these acts of obedience do not make her more virtuous; on the contrary, they stir her “to think herself Somebody”—to become more vain, more haughty, more selfish. For, as MacDonald sagely observes,
The beginning of springtime, when the fleeting beauty of the outdoors sometimes overshadows the perpetual urgency of lessons, is a good time to be reading Charlotte Mason, who insisted that time spent outside is integral to the child's formation and education.
“There was once a little man called Niggle, who had a long journey to make. He did not want to go, indeed the whole idea was distasteful to him; but he could not get out of it. He knew he would have to start some time, but he did not hurry with his preparations”: so begins Tolkien’s short story “Leaf by Niggle.”
For classical educators striving to “integrate the disciplines,” music provides an invaluable instrument of integration. Music studies harmonize with every core discipline of the curriculum: the music of various periods vocalizes the movements of history, the formal structures of music correspond to the formal structures of poetry, the theory of music applies principles of mathematics, the physics of music makes audible the laws of science. Music even bridges education’s theoretical and technical divide, as it can be both contemplated with the mind and practiced with the hands.
“Good taste” is not, as most debates regarding the phrase assume, a term in the logical sense—a discreet idea signified by words. It will, for this reason, fare badly in argument; anyone who has tried for five minutes to defend the notion of “good taste” against the aesthetic relativist recalls the exasperating embarrassment of finding himself unable to define, let alone defend, the principle of which he nevertheless remains convinced.
My favorite nineteenth-century novel, George Eliot’s Middlemarch, spins its plot from this premise: What happens when a person of fervent ideals is born into a place and age that cannot support them?
Is it ethical to use a man’s emotions to persuade him?
In the electric atmosphere of today’s propagandistic politics, that question is charged. By and large, even teenagers expect that the vast majority of the campaigning, advertising, and peer-pressuring they will encounter is based solely on emotion; this is the definition of propaganda, of persuasion that is untrustworthy and manipulative. The haunting assumption that the persuasion directed at them respects neither people nor truth is one reason for teenage cynicism’s ubiquity.
Any essay has three most-important sentences, I tell my students—and nearly always, as I help them revise their papers, I suggest those three sentences be rewritten. Though good prose throughout an essay bolsters its ability to communicate and persuade, I’d wager many an essay stands or falls on these three sentences alone, for they are the ones that shape the reader’s experience of the essay and lodge in his memory of it; they are the ones by which he will decide whether what he has read matters to him or not.
During our Christmas visit to my husband’s family and the home where he grew up, we spent an afternoon rummaging through closets and sheds, stirring up dust and memories. Amongst the stowed-away treasures were his first “guitar,” carved by his grandpa from a piece of wood; the leather baseball mitt he donned every Saturday through years of Little League games; a fleet of toy cars; and about a half-a-dozen largish boxes of fishing tackle.